How to Graduate With a First Class Degree

Graduating with a first class degree is an amazing achievement. This article shares tips to give you the best shot at graduating with the highest honours.

How to Graduate With a First Class Degree

People are usually very impressed to find out a student graduated with a first class degree. There is a general preconception that these students are naturally gifted or more intelligent than their peers and are set up for lifelong success.

This widely held belief certainly isn't true.

A first class degree does not in any way, shape or form guarantee any success in life and students graduating with a first class degree are not inherently more intelligent than their peers.

I may have bruised the ego of some of you graduating with a first class degree, but who cares — my site, my opinion.

A first class degree is a signal. It confirms that you've worked hard, consistently and made several sacrifices. It also evidences that you have a good level of intelligence, and are a self-motivated individual who understands the importance of delayed gratification.

Hard work, consistency and sacrifices you say; was it all worth it?

"ABSOFKINLUTELY". Adverb, a resounding yes.

Yes, it will be difficult. There were many times I didn't even think it was possible. Many late nights studying and times I wanted to give up. However, this made the pleasure of receiving my degree certificate all the more rewarding. A first class degree is something no one can take away from me. I've done the hard work and is an achievement I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

"I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'" Muhammad Ali

Prepare to make sacrifices. Wave goodbye to your social life in your final year. I went as far as completely giving up social media and missed many nights out. FOMO was real, although I didn't miss much. I have since made up for the loss of my social life over those 6 to 7 months.

Not everyone is willing to make the sacrifices required to graduate with a first class degree, but that's okay. It shouldn't be a goal for everyone.

You Need to Maintain Relentless Focus

Educating yourself and earning your degree is the main reason you're at university. It has to be your primary focus - education.

Graduating with a first class degree doesn't happen by chance.

You need to become obsessed with this goal, to give yourself any chance of succeeding. Relentless focus is required. Eliminate all distractions not contributing towards your goal of graduating with a first class degree.

Some of you may be worried that you you'll work as hard as possible, without any guarantee of graduating with highest honours. That's true of anything in life - there are no guarantees. But we need to work hard in everything we do to give ourselves the best chance of success. If we don't, then we're guaranteed not to succeed.

Another key point is for you to surround yourself with like-minded students, sharing the same goal. There was a group of about 5 or 6 of us, whom all had the same goal of graduating with the highest honours. We studied together and even spent our leisure time together. We were all in a WhatsApp group, where we helped each other with tough questions and attempted exercises together.

Another benefit of having a close-knit group of friends with the same goal is competition. Knowing someone else was better at specific topics than I was motivated me to study even harder. It was a friendly competition because we all genuinely wanted to help one another succeed and we were highly collaborative.

It was no surprise that every single one of us graduated with a first class degree.

This is the day we graduated, with lots of feeling and lots of tears. We came from different country, different provinces, and this might be the last time we will see each other. I am happy that I met you awesome people, and I hope everyone will continue the life journey with flying colors. Cheers.
Photo by Pang Yuhao / Unsplash

Compound Interest Also Applies to Your Education

I've previously discussed compound interest applying to all aspects of our lives and not just financially. It may seem a little out of place here, but give me a chance to explain.

I was a pretty average student before understanding that compound interest also applies to my education. I was previously one of those "cram it all at very last minute and hope for the best" type of student. It didn't work well.

The moment I realised that compound interest also applies to my education was when my grades started to take off astronomically. It helped me to remain consistent, focused and motivated throughout the academic year.

Compound interest is the idea that the more money you save today, the more money you'll have in future - the result being exponential and not linear.

In the article, I described compound interest as the "interest on interest" element. This definition is also applicable to your education. The more you learn today, the greater and more in-depth your knowledge in future, i.e. the "knowledge on knowledge" element.

Bringing this back into context, the first year at university or lectures early in the year may not mean much on the grand scheme of things. It may not even count towards the overall grade for some degree disciplines.

However, they have immense value if you're to realise your ambition of graduating with a first class degree, through the knowledge, experience and skills they provide. In other words, they are more important than the credits attributed to them. They teach you the foundation of the course, the basic building blocks. They teach how to study and how to get the most out of your lectures and seminars. In essense, it's these intangible benefits that helps you throughout your degree. You've built the right foundations early, setting you apart from most of your peers.

Starting Early Gives You the Best Chance of Success

At the start of the academic year, the end of year exams is too far away in most students minds. They spend most of the year getting the "uni experience". Their exams only became important during the revision period.

By then, it's far too late.

It's like only just beginning to save for retirement when you're in your 60s. You'd have to work harder and save a hell of a lot more than someone who started saving for retirement in their 20s to enjoy similar lifestyles in retirement. Despite this, you will not be able to catch up, even if the person who started saving in their 20s was only putting away relatively modest amounts.

In my final two years at university and while studying for my professional exams, I took a very different approach. I began actively working towards my exams from day 1. Everything I did was with the end in sight - exams.

Slow and steady was my motto to avoiding burnout and enjoying the process.

Have you noticed that it's not those who are overweight and need to run you see running at 6 am each morning in the rainy, cold, dark winter months? It's those who are already fit and healthy. Likewise, it is not the students who are struggling that are studying hard and turning up to each lecture. They're far too comfortable. Instead, it's the best students who spend hours studying daily, even when it's tough. Consistency helps them to achieve and maintain their success.

I diligently attended each lecture and revisited the content in the evenings. I needed to understand each lecture in detail before attending the next as falling behind would have been disastrous.

Just like having a good understanding of basic algebra is the building block to being able to understand advanced calculus, each lecture you attended are the building blocks to your academic success. They build on your knowledge of previous lectures and consolidate your learning. Keeping on top of your studies helps you better connect the dots and make sense of each aspect of your degree, seeing the bigger picture.

Consistently studying throughout the year also builds momentum - like a flywheel. Classes can be very fast-paced. If you're on top of your studies, you'll be more engaged in your lectures, ensuring you get more out of them and further accelerating your learning.

Genuinely understanding the course content early and revisiting them periodically throughout the academic year is the magic formula. Starting your studying early in the academic year and building this habit earlier on, gives you the greatest length of time for your knowledge to compound and to get comfortable with the syllabus.

Others who didn't start early and weren't as consistent found it challenging to keep up. As the academic year progressed, they became even more stressed and did not enjoy the studying process. Eventually, these students stopped attending classes and dropped out of university altogether. You do not want this to be you.

Designer sketching Wireframes
Photo by Green Chameleon / Unsplash

Revision Period Is Not for Learning New Content

Once you enter the revision phase, you will find that you do not have to study as much or as hard as your peers. At this stage, you should not be learning new concepts, but merely revisiting previously learned content with which you aren't 100% comfortable. Refreshing your memory and practicing your exam technique.

I was able to implement deliberate practice into my revision schedule by targeting my learning at crucial knowledge gaps, focussing my studying in short bursts. I didn't have to learn large chunks of the syllabus as many do. My learning had been done consistently throughout the academic year. It made me less stressed than my peers, who were pulling 18 hour days.

Not being as stressed meant I was able to take in more in less time. It allowed me to work smarter, be more productive and genuinely enjoy the process. I was far better prepared mentally than most of my peers during the exam period.

While peers were searching for somewhere to study in the crowded libraries, I avoided the stress of it all by not having to study as much during the revision period. I had put in the hard work early in the year and had more time to digest the concept to ensure I fully understood it. There was no cramming involved. I wasn't leaving this to chance.

I was often described as "naturally smart" or said to be "lucky" or "gifted" by my peers. They were only saying this to make them feel better about the unfortunate situation they find themselves, for which they only have themselves to blame. Saying this was an insult because it completely discredited my consistency and hard work during the academic year.

By no means was I the smartest on my course - not even close. But I graduated top of my class by remaining consistent, determined, motivated, hard-working and making several sacrifices along the way.

Those who get the best grades are not necessarily the smartest. They are the ones who have worked hard and kept consistent the longest.

I have learned and developed essential skills that continue to help me in my career today and more generally in life.

Looking back, it was all worth it.


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